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The Catalyst

Ronald McDonald House offers home away from home

By Cory Spears
Special to The Catalyst

Wearing pink fuzzy slippers and a face mask, 17-year-old Taylor Fentress walks from her room to the kitchen of the Ronald McDonald House in search of an afternoon snack. Her mother, Amy, sits at the front window, recalling her youngest daughter's long journey.

Taylor Fentress (bottom left) and her family are staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Charleston.
Taylor Fentress (bottom left) and her family are staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Charleston.

Taylor was born with a heart defect called Ebstein's anomaly, a congenital condition where the tricuspid valve in her heart did not form correctly. Almost immediately after her birth, Amy and her husband were given the grim news that Taylor was only expected to live for three days, given the severity of her condition. Their hearts sank in sadness — until a pediatric surgeon in their area offered to perform, a then very experimental, open-heart surgery on the newborn. The couple decided that it was their only chance at saving their daughter and gave permission.

To their joy, the surgery went well. It was then followed by two more successful surgeries before Taylor's first birthday.

Unfortunately, during recovery from the third, Taylor contracted a staph infection, resulting in most of her sternum being removed. Then, at age 2½, she had a pacemaker installed. Despite this initial adversity, Taylor continued to grow into a loving, bright child, and in 2000, her family moved from their home state of New York to the Greenville area of South Carolina. Amy said, “We like it because it’s so much warmer here!”

On Jan. 3, Taylor was put on the list for a heart transplant. In the early morning of Jan. 4, Amy received a phone call — by some miracle, a heart was available for Taylor and doctors needed to perform surgery as soon as possible. Taylor was transferred to MUSC, where she underwent surgery and stayed during the first part of her recovery.

Mission Statement

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Charleston provides temporary lodging and support for eligible families of seriously ill children in a home-like environment through the operation of the Ronald McDonald House.

RMHCC also provides comfort and support to such families through the Ronald McDonald Family Room located in the Children’s Hospital at MUSC.
Through both of these settings, families are provided a forum to communicate and share experiences with other similarly situated families.
RMHCC also supports related programs that improve the health and enhance the lives of children, and relies heavily on the generous support of volunteers and donations from the Charleston and surrounding communities.

Ronald McDonald House

Her family, however, was unsure of their accommodations. That’s when one of Taylor’s nurses called the Ronald McDonald House, which just happened to have a room available.

“With it being an unexpected trip, the cost of a hotel on such short notice would have been unimaginable,” Amy said. “RMH has been a blessing.”

After being discharged as an in-patient, Taylor joined her family at RMH, staying in one of the seven transplant-specific rooms available. Although the house is equipped with anti-microbial copper finishings and sanitizer dispensers at every turn, Taylor must wear a face mask and carry her own personal hand sanitizer, taking extra precaution to avoid infection.

Despite this tedious routine, Taylor remains in good spirits. During her most recent and sixth stay at MUSC, Taylor kept her spirits up by joking with her older sister, Ryan, who visits when she can take time away from college in Greenville.

“Amazingly, Taylor has retained her childlike view of the world. She hasn't grown up too fast,” Amy said.

For her 18th birthday, Taylor’s church friends planned a formal party — complete with ball gowns and elegance.
For her 18th birthday, Taylor’s church friends planned a formal party — complete with ball gowns and elegance.

In April, Taylor turned 18. Because she missed so many days due to surgery and recovery, she did not graduate from high school. However, she plans to get her GED and looks forward to higher education. She originally planned to be a veterinary assistant, but that may change due to the high risk from feline and avian infection. Still, Taylor continues to pursue the things she loves the most. She enjoys cooking and petting the house labradoddle, Cooper. She Skypes with her grandparents in Florida and hopes to visit them soon. For her birthday, Taylor’s church friends planned a formal party — complete with ball gowns and elegance — as Taylor was unable to attend prom.

“Our faith is very important to us,” said Amy. The sunlight shines through the windows, and Amy smiles. “God has a path for Taylor.”

You Can Make a Difference

To make a donation, volunteer or learn more about the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Charleston, contact Barbara A. Bond at 723-7957, ext. 302 or

On Aug. 3, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., Bonefish Grill, located at 5041 International Blvd., North Charleston, will host a night of culinary delights in support of the Ronald McDonald House. All of the proceeds will benefit the Charleston RMH.

For ticket information, contact Rachel Hubbard at 723-7957 or email

Editor’s note: The article is reprinted with permission from the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Charleston,

July 18, 2013

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